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Ultrawings is a VR flight simulator that puts your real hands on a virtual flight stick

A new way to look at flight simulations

Learning to fly has never been more natural, but it’s still not easy
BitPlanet Games

Flight simulations used to either require the use of a keyboard and mouse, which are nothing like the feel of “actually” flying, or the purchase and installation of a more traditional flight stick.

Ultrawings not only wants to introduce people to the thrill of flying in virtual reality, the game has found an effective middle ground when it comes to controls. The Oculus Rift game models your real hands in the game, allowing you to interact with a virtual toggles, buttons and stick.

The game’s teaser shows what it’s like to take off in one of the game’s planes.

“It was all gamepad driven initially,” Developer Chris Stockman of BitPlanetGames told Polygon. “But we did not want to do the standard sort of things you see in cockpit games, where your body twists and turns and your virtual arms and hands rest on stuff ... we were initially thinking maybe you use the sticks to control the throttle and use the stick to use the flight stick, so we thought maybe we just try using your hands?”

This is helped by the fact the Rift’s controllers offer capacitive buttons. This means that you can mimic the moving of pointing, and your virtual hand points, which then allows you to punch a button. Or you can reach down and the triggers to make a fist and push the throttle up to increase speed. After that it’s just a matter of grabbing the virtual stick and pulling up to gain altitude, and then you’re flying.

The cockpits are simple enough that even novices can understand what’s going on, and the controls are far enough apart that you have to move your hands around to maintain control of your plane, going as far as manually controlling the settings on your flaps to make it easier to maintain altitude. It’s a perfect mixture of flying physics that feel “real” while being easy for anyone to enjoy themselves in the virtual air.

“All of our aircraft are governed by a realistic, flight simulator engine but we’ve made many modifications so that each aircraft is really fun to fly,” the game’s site states. “Also, the type of jobs you will take on in the game are most definitely not realistic in anyway. When was the last time you flew an Ultralight and pop giant balloons with a dart gun?”

Flying and aiming at the same time is harder than it looks
BitPlanet Games

It’s a very different experience than most flight simulators, even those in virtual reality. It’s an open-world game with multiple airports and three planes you can buy, with each one handling differently, and some of the missions require the use of both hands in a way that wouldn’t be possible with a flight stick. It’s one thing to model the actual controls of a plane, but what if you had to fly while aiming a camera to take a well-framed picture of your surroundings?

What if you had to maintain control of your plane while also aiming a dart gun? Ultrawings puts you in the position of having to multitask while flying for some of the missions, but the controls feel natural rather than overwhelming. That’s the power of the hand-tracking in virtual reality; you have to learn how to fly, but not how the controls abstract each goal.

You’re not screaming around the sky at the speed we’re used to from games set in space or where you’re flying jets; it’s a much more deliberate, calming sense of flight and control. Earning money through the missions is a big part of the game, but I often found myself enjoying the act of flying itself. It’s very relaxing up there. Stockman listed Pilotwings as a strong influence on the game, and it shows in all the best ways.

The game is set to be released around February 21 on Oculus Rift, with more content on the way after launch.

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